Review: ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser

December 20, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

The ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser brings an incredible camera to a low-cost smartphone.

ASUS, like many other manufacturers, have released a number of variants of their ZenFone 3 smartphone. There was the original ZenFone 3 (which was later cancelled for the US) then the ZenFone 3 Deluxe which is a bit more high-end. There’s also the ZenFone 3 Max which is lower-end with a huge battery and the ZenFone 3 Laser which is also lower-end but has laser autofocus (much like the ZenFone 3 Deluxe). It comes in at a much lower price tag, actually it’s half the price. But does it stand up to what other smartphones are offering at $200?

Specs

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Spec-wise, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser sports a 5.5-inch 1080p display, that’s an IPS panel, and it takes up about 73.6% of the front of the device. This gives the ZenFone 3 Laser a pixel density of about 401 pixels per inch and it is protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3. Under the hood, we have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 430 (it’s the MSM8937 for those interested) which is an octa-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 chipset and that is paired with the Adreno 505 GPU. Additionally, we have 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (there’s also a 4GB model with 64GB of storage). There is a micro SD card slot that supports up to 256GB of storage as well.

When it comes to the cameras, we’re looking at a 13-megapixel rear-facing shooter, which has laser autofocus, and an aperture of f/2.0. Additionally the front-facing shooter is a 8-megapixel sensor with the same aperture of f/2.0. Connectivity includes WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, WiFi Direct, WiFi Hotspot, Bluetooth 4.2 and location services provided by A-GPS, GLONASS and BDS. Unfortunately the ZenFone 3 Laser does not sport a USB Type-C port, but rather a micro USB port. Finally, we have a 3000mAh battery that is non-removable, with Android 6.0 and ZenUI v3.0.

In the Box

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If you read our review of the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, you would have seen that the unboxing experience was pretty nice. With some very high-end materials and a few goodies included. But the ZenFone 3 Laser has none of that. That shouldn’t be surprising since this phone is literally half the cost. Once you slide off the cover, you’ll find the ZenFone 3 Laser, wrapped in plastic as usual. Beneath that you’ll find the paperwork that comes in most smartphone boxes. This includes the quick start guide, warranty and a few other useful features. There’s also a SIM ejection tool, USB Type-A to micro USB cable and a wall adapter included. Unlike the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, there’s no headphones included in the ZenFone 3 Laser’s box.

Hardware & Build Quality

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The hardware on the ZenFone 3 Laser is much different than what we had on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, of course we also have to remember that the ZenFone 3 Laser is also about half the price so some corners are bound to be cut. Surprisingly, for a smartphone that costs $199, the ZenFone 3 Laser does have an aluminum unibody design. The back and sides are made of aluminum, which makes it feel rather nice in the hand. ASUS does have a band at the top and bottom on the back, which is basically the antenna lines. So that the device can get signal, since it’s tough for signal to penetrate through aluminum. Also on the backside, there is that fingerprint sensor which looks identical to the one on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe. Above that is the camera module with the dual LED flash on the right of it and the laser autofocus on the left, which is the whole reason this phone exists.

ASUS has curved the sides of the ZenFone 3 Laser a bit, so it sits nicely in your hand, but they aren’t to curved that the buttons are tough to press. The power and volume rocker are located on the right side, and are in pretty much the right place. They are reachable when holding the device with one hand, and there’s needing to shimmy your hand up the device to reach them, definitely a nice feature here. The left side just houses the SIM card and micro SD card slot. The bottom has your micro USB port (which some will say is upside down) with the speaker on the right and one microphone hole on the left. There’s another microphone hole at the top, and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side. It’s nice to see ASUS keeping the headphone jack, when most other manufacturers are opting to get rid of it.

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The front of the ZenFone 3 Laser doesn’t have any surprises. At the bottom of the 5.5-inch display, there are the three capacitive keys for back, home and recents. At the top of the display houses your camera, earpiece and other sensors needed for the display. Like the proximity sensor, this is what turns off the display when you put the phone up to your ear to talk on it.

Display

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What’s interesting here is that the pixel density is higher on the ZenFone 3 Laser than it was on the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, and that’s only because this is a smaller display with the same resolution. But that doesn’t make it a better display. The panel here is pretty decent. It’s not going to blow you away, picture-wise. It’s still great for consuming content on, as you’d expect. Our problem with the display is that the digitizer doesn’t seem to be as accurate as you’d expect. Which has led to us having to tap the screen multiple times to get something done. Like tapping on an email or something similar. This is something that could be fixed in an update though, so I wouldn’t write the ZenFone 3 Laser completely off.

The panel isn’t as cool as some users may like it. But ZenUI does allow you to change up the temperature of the display. So you can choose from “Balance” (which is what we used during the review process), “Bluelight Filter”, “Vivid” or “Customized”. With the customized one, you can obviously customize the temperature to your liking, which is a nice touch. Bluelight Filter is a great one to use when you are using your phone at night, as the whites in the interface won’t kill your retinas.

Performance

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The ZenFone 3 Laser is running on the Snapdragon 430, which is a relatively low-end processor, these days. With the ZenFone 3 Laser, you can definitely feel how slow the device really is, unfortunately. This is an octa-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A53 processor, and it feels like it. There are times where the ZenFone 3 Laser would feel very sluggish, of course, having 2GB of RAM doesn’t help all that much either. One prime example of how slow the ZenFone 3 Laser can be is using Snapchat. There are times where I would open Snapchat, and refresh the stories from people I follow, and it wouldn’t even refresh. It felt like the app was frozen. Now, yes Snapchat is a pretty resource intensive application, but we haven’t had issues like this on other processors, even in the Snapdragon 600-series.

While it is pretty sluggish in Snapchat, the Snapdragon 430 performs decently in the rest of the OS. As long as you aren’t playing any games or using any resource intensive applications, you should be perfectly fine with the Snapdragon 430 and even 2GB of RAM. By most accounts, only 2GB of RAM is pretty low these days, but remember that Android can run on as little as 512MB of RAM, so it does run, but not as well as it would with even 3GB of RAM.

What this means is that, if you just need a smartphone to do things like checking email, browsing through Twitter and such, then the ZenFone 3 Laser is a good choice. But if you are a heavy user, then the ZenFone 3 Laser won’t be a good choice, and may leave you annoyed with how slow some tasks can be to accomplish.

Fingerprint Sensor

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The fingerprint sensor on the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser is located on the back of the device, below the camera. Much like the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, it is a rectangular sensor, which is a bit different, but it allows for what ASUS is calling “360-degree” fingerprints. Essentially what this means is that you can place your finger on the sensor in any direction and it will read it accurately and unlock your device. In our testing of the device, it did just that, which was definitely nice to see.

Since the ZenFone 3 Laser is running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it does have support for the Fingerprint API. This also means that all apps with support for that API, also work with the fingerprint sensor on the ZenFone 3 Laser. The app that I use most often with the fingerprint sensor is LastPass. Being able to login with your fingerprint is so much easier than needing to type in your password all the time.

With the fingerprint sensor here, there are a few extra features, or actually “touch controls” as ASUS calls them. There’s the ability to tap and hold the sensor to answer an incoming call, double tap the fingerprint sensor to launch the camera but only when the device is unlocked. And there is one where you can tap the sensor to take a photo from within the camera app. Again these can all be enabled or disabled individually in the settings (Settings > Fingerprints).

Speaker & Audio

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ASUS has put the speaker on the bottom of the ZenFone 3 Laser, to the right of the micro USB port. This is where most smartphone makers are putting their speakers these days, and it’s not necessarily a bad place, but most people would prefer front-facing speakers. The ZenFone 3 Laser’s speaker can be quite loud, but the audio quality isn’t quite there. Sometimes it can sound a bit tinny, which isn’t a good thing. Some of the high’s aren’t great at all, but when it comes to the mids and lows, it’s pretty decent.

Overall, the speaker isn’t going to win any awards, but it definitely isn’t the worst speaker we’ve heard on a smartphone. It’s loud enough for you to hear it virtually anywhere, which is a good thing.

Wireless Connectivity

During our time with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser, we used the device on the T-Mobile network here in the US. It does work with both AT&T and T-Mobile here, with 4G LTE on both. However, band 12 is missing for T-Mobile. So if you use T-Mobile, you may not get great indoor coverage with this device. This is a dual SIM device, so you could use two SIMs in here and have both networks running on your ZenFone 3 Laser, which would be pretty sweet. Now, there is no WiFi Calling or HD Voice available on the ZenFone 3 Laser. That is likely due to this smartphone not being sold by the carriers. You can see the supported bands below:

GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900

HSDPA 850, 900, 1900, 2100

LTE Bands 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 18, 19, 28, 38, 41

Benchmarks

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During our review time, we tested the ZenFone 3 Laser with three benchmarks. These include 3D Mark, AnTuTu and Geekbench 4. With 3D Mark, the device scored a 303 in the Sling Shot Extreme test. On AnTuTu, it scored 43,636 which put it almost dead last, between the Xiaomi Mi 4S and the Meizu M3 – keep in mind that most of the ones on this list are flagship devices with Snapdragon 800-series, MediaTek Helio or Exynos 7/8 processors. Finally, Geekbench 4 came in with scores of 634 on the single-core score and a 2023 in the multi-core score. You can check out the full scores in the gallery below.

Battery Life

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There is a 3000mAh battery inside the ZenFone 3 Laser, which is pretty massive, for a smartphone with these specs. With the Snapdragon 430 being a pretty low-end processor, it allows the battery to last quite a while, and it sure does. In fact, we’ve found that we were unable to kill the battery in one day. It typically took us a couple of days to completely kill the battery in the ZenFone 3 Laser. That’s definitely impressive (although the ZenFone 3 Max may be even more impressive with its 4100mAh battery).

Throughout the week or so that we were testing the ZenFone 3 Laser, we were able to get at least 4 hours of on screen time, and often times a bit more than that. The on-screen time is about what you’d expect from any smartphone in 2016, but what really helps the ZenFone 3 Laser is the standby time. When sitting idle, the ZenFone 3 Laser just sips on the battery, barely using any juice at all. Allowing you to let it sit overnight and only lose about 1-2%.

Now we can talk about the battery life all we want, but we have to talk about charging. With ASUS throwing in the Snapdragon 430, it means that we do have support for Quick Charge 3.0. Allowing you to charge up the ZenFone 3 Laser from 0 to 80% in about 30-45 minutes. That makes topping off the ZenFone 3 Laser pretty quick and easy. This is a great thing for those times when you want to just top off the phone before going out at night, as it takes literally just minutes to charge up.

Software

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Software-wise, the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser is running on Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow and the August 5th, 2016 security patch. Both of which are fairly outdated. ASUS is working on Android 7.x Nougat, but it is currently unclear when it will be making its way over to the ZenFone 3 Laser, which is a bit sad. Seeing as this smartphone just came out a little over a month ago, you’d expect it to be a bit more up-to-date than this. ASUS doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to updates, something to keep in mind if you are looking to pick up this device.

Just like with the ASUS ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, the ZenFone 3 Laser does have ZenUI on top of Marshmallow, so many users won’t even know that it is running on Marshmallow. ASUS does have a slew of bloatware included on the ZenFone 3 Laser, these include AudioWizard, Do It Later, Flashlight, FM Radio, Laser Ruler, MiniMovie, MobileManager, MyASUS Service Center, Splendid, Themes, ZenCircle, ZenFone Care and ZenTalk. Many of these can be uninstalled or disabled though.

The app drawer in ZenUI still scrolls horizontally, instead of vertically like the Pixel Launcher and most other third-party launchers. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, seeing as many people do prefer to see an app drawer scroll horizontally. Many users will be happy that they have an app drawer, since a lot of smartphone makers are opting to get rid of it. An interesting feature on the ZenFone 3 Laser occurs when you swipe down on the home screen. You’ll open up a new search interface which appears to be powered by Google. But it can search for all sorts of things and even shows you trending searches, as well as your most frequent apps. It can be a pretty useful feature, but it’s just not something that I have used a whole lot while using the ZenFone 3 Laser.

One of the downsides to the ZenUI on the ZenFone 3 Laser is all of the white space in the UI. If you’re one who likes to use your smartphone at night or in dark places, then you won’t like having all of this white space. Simply because it will hurt your eyes. Now, ASUS does have a bluelight filter mode for the display, which can be set to automatically kick in at certain times, but eliminating all the white space would also help with this. Additionally, the UI looks a bit dated with all the white space in the UI.

Otherwise, the interface that ASUS has provided on the ZenFone 3 Laser is actually pretty good. It’s pretty lightweight, which is especially useful seeing as the device runs a fairly low-end processor. It’s also packed with a whole bunch of features that users will love to play around with. It’s sad that it is not running Nougat just yet, but it should get it fairly soon.

Camera

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Internally, we’ve been discussing why this smartphone exists. The name makes you think that it exists for the laser autofocus that the camera has. But the ZenFone 3 Deluxe has that, with a better camera sensor. So this is essentially just a cheaper smartphone with laser autofocus. This means that it’s going to focus pretty quickly, and in real life, it does. We took pictures in all kinds of lighting during the review process and came away with some great pictures just about every time. There’s a picture in the gallery below (hosted on Flickr) which was taken at a hotel, and there was plenty of great lighting in there. The picture came out really good, to be honest. Probably the best picture from this smartphone, and it took just a few seconds to focus and capture it.

The camera UI is still fairly minimal here. With a few quick settings on the left side, and your shutter buttons and other modes on the right side. Speaking of modes, you have Auto, Manual, HDR Pro, Beautification, Super Resolution, Children, Low Light, QR Code, Night, Depth of Field, Effect, Selfie, GIF Animation, Panorama, Miniature, Time Rewind, Smart Remove, All Smiles, Slow Motion and Time Lapse. So there’s no shortage of camera modes available in the ZenFone 3 Laser here. All of the pictures we took with this camera were taken with HDR Auto on, and it appeared to work out pretty well. None of the images were blown out or oversaturated. This might be the best camera on a smartphone that costs less than $200, actually. I was really impressed with what came out of this one.

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The Good

Camera

Battery Life

Build Quality

Speaker

Price

The Bad

Display

Performance

Outdated software

Wrap Up

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The ZenFone 3 Laser isn’t the company’s best smartphone, that is still the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, but for $200, there’s a lot to like here. When we are looking at phones like the ZenFone 3 Laser, it’s important to remember the price point. Because sure it doesn’t compare with what is available on the likes of the OnePlus 3T, or the Honor 8, or the Galaxy S7 Edge, but it’s also a fraction of the price. For what it costs, the ZenFone 3 Laser is a very respectable handset from ASUS.

Should you buy the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser?

If you are looking for a device that will work well for most basic smartphone functionality, then the ZenFone 3 Laser is a great smartphone to pick up. However, if you are looking for something a bit more high-end, or something that you can do a whole lot of gaming on, you may want to look at the ZenFone 3 Deluxe, which we did also review and you can check out that review here.

Buy the ASUS ZenFone 3 Laser